Offshore Leaks Database Made Public

Crime | June 15, 2013, Saturday // 16:41
Bulgaria: Offshore Leaks Database Made Public The files contain information on over 120 000 offshore entities - including shell corporations and legal structures known as trusts - involving people in over 170 countries. Photo by 24 Hours

The International Consortium of Investigative journalists (ICIJ), responsible for the Offshore Leaks, has released a web app that allows Internet users to sort through the leaked financial information themselves.

Euronews interviewed by email La Naci?n’s Matthew Caruana Galizia, journalist-developer and data-specialist, to know more about the web app, how it was built, how it works and how he got to work on it.

“For two years, I had been working on web applications at the Financial Times , [ at the FT Labs – the emerging web technologies team at the Financial Times]” Caruana Galizia explains.

“Through my participation in a technology and journalism conference in London, I got to know the journalists involved in this project”. The Maltese journalist would soon leave the FT and move to Costa Rica, where most of the work on the database was being done, “kindly sponsored by La Nacion.”

“The app allows anyone to search and explore the entire database of companies, people and places we built out of original leaked cache of files,” he told euronews.

“This is the kind of work that consultancies would typically charge millions of dollars for,” he adds. “Taking big, very poorly constructed databases and refining them into what’s called a graph database, where every person, company or place contained within is stored along with direct pointers to the other things it’s connected to.”

“What could be better than exploring the data yourself?” Caruana Galizia asks. After the stories about presidents, senators, dictators, ministers and prime ministers, “we should fry the remaining large fish but also medium-sized fish too,” because “there’s a shedload of corruption at that level.”

The Offshore Leaks’ network sought to be broad enough to reach citizens from all over the world so that they can dig for names they recognise, pleads the journalist and notes:

“It’s impossible to do this without widening the network of people looking at the data (…) this kind of scale can only be achieved with the web.”

The web app is the gift that keeps on giving, according to Caruana Galizia. “The idea is that even after the original raft of stories involving politicians and high profile individuals, it will become another important resource for investigative journalists.”

He see the usefulness of the web app on the longer term: “Years down the line you might be working on an investigation into a company or individual that you later find in the database. Leads like that are extremely useful.”

More than thirty Bulgarians have made the list of some 100 000 people around the world, who sought utmost secrecy in offshore tax havens, 24 Hours daily reported at the end of May.

The list includes a financial expert (an Associate Professor and lecturer linked with the now defunct 1990s strong-arm structure SIC, who participated in the creation of insurance and pension funds), a state official (an expert in the Agriculture fund, who previously worked in the Ministry of Education), a founder of a private university in Bulgaria, many local businessmen, the report said.

Bulgaria's tax authorities have had no information about Bulgarians funneling money in offshore havens, according to the report, which cites well informed insiders.

Bulgaria's Revenues Agency declined commenting on the scandalous information, saying checks are underway.

A journalist from 24 Hours daily newspaper Stanimir Vaglenov is part of the Washington, D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which has received nearly 30 years of data entries, emails and other confidential details from 10 offshore havens around the world in what is believed to be one of the largest ever leaks of financial data.

Nearly forty media outlets in 35 other countries have also been involved in investigating the unprecedented leaks.

The files contain information on over 120 000 offshore entities - including shell corporations and legal structures known as trusts - involving people in over 170 countries.

The leak amounts to 260 gigabytes of data, or 162 times larger than the US State Department cables published by WikiLeaks in 2010.

There was also plenty of information related to legal offshore dealings. Offshore investments aren't illicit as long as they are not used to evade taxes or launder money.

In many cases, the leaked documents expose insider details of how agents would incorporate companies in Caribbean and South Pacific micro-states on behalf of wealthy clients, then assign front people called "nominees" to serve, on paper, as directors and shareholders for the corporations - disguising the companies' true owners.

Often the companies were set up through intermediary law and accounting firms, as well, adding a further layer of anonymity for investors.

Sometimes these methods were used by figures with known links to organized crime, arms dealers and ex-mercenaries. In other instances, documents reveal tax dodgers funneling money offshore, beyond the eyes and arms of their nation's treasury.

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Tags: Jean-Jacques Augier, French President, francois hollande, Cayman Islands, Ilham Aliev, Igor Shuvalov, data, financial, leak, offshore, tax havens, Caribbean, South Pacific

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